LEWISTON — Thousands of people lined the streets in downtown Lewiston and Auburn Saturday morning to celebrate Maine’s 200th birthday, one year late.

From New Auburn up through Main Street in Lewiston, more than 90 units processed by foot, on floats, in vehicles, and — for some uniquely talented Mainers by unicycle in the Maine State Bicentennial Parade. The bravest were those who dared to dress up in costume in the humid 80 degree heat.

Led by the Maine bicentennial band and Gov. Janet Mills in the University of Maine’s 3D printed boat, the parade featured Company A, 3rd Maine Regiment Volunteer Infantry, the Maine E-Acts baton twirling team, the Hallowell Community Band, Lewiston-Auburn Community Little Theatre, the Maine Squeeze accordion ensemble and myriad other community groups, nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and municipal services.

But the best feature of the parade, according to Makenna, Arabella and Aspen Simonds, were the horses pulling Hannaford’s vintage carriage. They gave the German shepherd riding with police an honorable mention.

After living with COVID-19 and pandemic protocols for almost a year-and-a-half, the parade was a highly anticipated community event. The bicentennial parade, originally set to take place in August of 2020, was rescheduled twice in the last year due to the pandemic.

“There’s an element of civic pride to it,” Maine Bicentennial Vice Chairman David Cheever said. “There’s state pride in the parade, but there’s civic pride on the part of Lewiston and Auburn because they strutted their stuff. They know how to do this, and they showed it again,” he said, referring to the Maine state parade which was held in the Twin Cities for decades until it was discontinued in the early 2000s.

A large group of vaccine mandate protestors were present on the Longley Memorial Bridge and another group at the end of the parade route, but the event remained largely undisturbed as participants and parade-watchers enjoyed the morning show.

“There was a real nice spirit. Even the people who were protesting,” Cheever said. “They came up after and were apologizing to the guys in the band.”

For many long-time residents, watching Lewiston-Auburn parades is a time-honored tradition.

An aerial view Saturday of the Maine State Bicentennial Parade as it crosses the Longley Bridge from Auburn into Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

In the minutes leading up to the parade, Richard Giguere confessed he was feeling emotional. At 74, his health is declining and he worries this parade may be his last.

“My heart is kaput and I’ve got a defibrillator,” he said. “When that goes, I go . . . This parade means a lot to me because I don’t know how many more I can make.”

Giguere, who grew up in Lewiston, attended the annual Maine State Parade every year until it was discontinued in the early 2000s. The only years he missed the event were during his deployment to Vietnam in the late 1960s. 

He fondly remembers attending parades as a child, a time when he remembers far fewer cars on the road. “I was on cloud nine. It was something to do,” he said. 

Now, he finds a special joy in watching the exuberant children. 

“I love the faces of these kids. Look at them,” he said. “They’re tickled pink!”

Gary Gagnon of Litchfield sees the parade as a celebration of liberty and Maine’s history.

“(For Maine) to be around this long and (for us to) have the freedoms that we have, to be able to come out and enjoy something like this . . .  Enjoy it if you can,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do today. Enjoy the parade and be around people.”

Jessica Willy, who moved to Auburn from Nebraska five years ago, said she and her four kids have attended the Great Falls Balloon Festival, but had never seen a parade in the Twin Cities. For her youngest kids, Anthony and Sophia, Maine’s bicentennial parade was their first.

“We got here early just to be here and get a good spot. It’s getting busy quick,” she said before the start of the parade. Their place of choice? Just past Raymond Park in Lewiston.

The skilled execution of the parade made the event seem almost effortless. What onlookers might not see is the tremendous amount of work that went into preparing for the parade, Greg Spear, a member of Lewiston’s Parks and Recreation Department, said.

City employees worked overtime so that other personnel could focus on event preparations, he explained. Mostly, in the weeks leading up to the parade, they have been focusing on cleaning the parks and streets along the parade route. “That’s the big thing, getting all of the trash out, all the cleaning, and making sure it stays clean so people have clean areas to watch the parade,” he said.

Before the start of the parade, some spectators were concerned that the protesters gathering on Longley Memorial Bridge would disrupt the event. Carrying signs with slogans such as “Freedom not force” and “Say no to vaccine mandate, I call the shot,” several hundred people gathered in anticipation of the governor’s arrival.

“Don’t disrupt (the parade) for all these people that you think you’re trying to support,” Chris Cope, whose daughter was crowned “Miss Lincoln County” in the parade. “These kids didn’t come out here to listen to you, they came out here to see fire engines and clowns and hot rods.”

The group was protesting Mill’s vaccine mandate for health care workers. As Mills passed by, approximately 100 protesters crowded around her vehicle chanting “Stop the mandate.” Even as protesters followed her up Main Street, she remained visibly cheery, smiling and waving at the crowds of people.

Cheever, who rode in a golf cart near Mills, said, “People are entitled to free speech, but you wish that people wouldn’t resort to vulgarity and profanity. You wish that they could be polite, but obviously they were passionate about their convictions. The governor to her credit maintained some nice decorum . . .  she acknowledged that she could hear them, but nothing went beyond the vocal state that we could see.” 

“Considering how things could have gone, there’s no reason not to be pleased,” Cheever continued.

The rest of the parade proceeded without disruption. 

At one point, spectators hopped onto the bridge to help push a 1960 Edsel Ranger off the bridge. The car, which had originally become unresponsive due to the heat, became undrivable after the key snapped in the ignition. 

A second protest at the end of the parade for environmental issues and Indigenous rights also remained peaceable.

Following the parade, many people gathered at the Lewiston Street Fest on Lisbon Street for an afternoon of food, music, face painting and other family-friendly events.


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